Hostel Territories

Backpackers take note: New developments in eco-hostelling are providing rucksack-toting travelers with environmentally friendly alternatives to the typical budget flophouse.

Minneapolis" EcoHostel boasts of an impressive number of green features.©ECOPOLITAN

The Minneapolis EcoHostel opened in July of last year as a comfy, 21-bed guesthouse in the heart of Minnesota’s Twin Cities. From recycled wood-pulp bed frames to natural spectrum light bulbs, every fixture and product in the EcoHostel is selected with an eco-fanatic’s eye toward environmental health and sustainability. Inside, staffer Maria Riecke drapes natural-soap laundered linens across an organic cotton mattress. It’s not just materials that earn the hostel its prefix, she explains: "We definitely try to raise awareness."

In fact, the EcoHostel—part of the multi-purpose Ecopolitan complex—fosters a distinctly instructive atmosphere. Sporadically posted plaques offer tips on water conservation and electromagnetic pollution. Guests have access to on-site lectures and the adjacent organic/raw restaurant and eco-spa—after all, what fatigued backpacker doesn’t appreciate a round at the oxygen bar?

The real innovation, however, is location. Unlike the idyllic, natural settings of most green accommodations, the EcoHostel sits three blocks from the interstate in Minneapolis" bustling Uptown neighborhood. Founder and innkeeper Dr. Adiel Tel-Oren sees no paradox. "To be ecological, you have to be urban," he insists. "That’s where the majority of people live and the least amount of transportation is needed."

Outside the concrete jungle, budget-lodging juggernaut Hostelling International (HI) is also embracing the eco-hostelling model. Recently approved projects in Humboldt County and Cape Cod incorporate sustainable building, solar energy and environmental education. The group sees sustainable technology as a shrewd investment as well as complement to its stated goals.

"Our mission is to create a greater understanding of the world and its people through travel," explains HI Eastern New England Council Executive Director Deborah Ruhe. "That includes the environmental world."

Despite promising developments, green hostelling projects face obstacles. Plans for HI’s Humboldt facility nearly collapsed last winter when local government considered leasing the land to a resort chain. Renovation of the Cape Cod location is contingent upon funding. In Minneapolis, city officials closed the EcoHostel after six months in operation, citing zoning violations. Tel-Oren is applying for proper zoning status and hopes to reopen the EcoHostel this summer.

"People need a place to stay," reflects Tel-Oren. "If we offer them an ecological one, what they learn there can make life better for the entire species."